We have an abundance of Chinese cabbage this year; it matured a little too late for market, so I’m finding ways to preserve it. These are huge heads, weighing over 3 pounds each, and I’m loath to waste them. So I’m trying them in sauerkraut. I’ve made kraut before, but only with European cabbages. I don’t know if there will be a difference, but this is the only way to find out.
My kraut recipe is based on an old European technique called lacto-fermentation (read more toward the end of this post). The ideal method is to pack the cabbage tightly into a large crock with salt and optional spices, let it ferment openly, and eventually pack it into jars. Last year, I tried a simpler version that packed directly into jars, and it came out pretty well, if a bit too salty.
So this year I’m using the same method, though varying the levels of salt and spice per jar to better calibrate the method for future use. The cabbage is chopped finely and packed into the sterilized jars, with 1-3 tsp of salt mixed in along with varying numbers of bay leaves and juniper berries. When the jars are full, a bit of hot water is added before lidding the jars. I’ll leave them in a warm place for a while, rotating the jars between upside-down and rightside-up, to get the fermentation started. After that, they can be stored in the basement for months.
That’s the idea, anyway, as laid out in our official guide to lacto-fermentation, Keeping Food Fresh. I don’t consider this post a recipe, exactly, as it’s something we’re still experimenting with and I couldn’t promise that this will work right. But I love kraut, was pretty pleased with last year’s version, and have high hopes for this batch. The nice thing about items like kraut is that if they do spoil, you’ll know as soon as you open the jar. Otherwise, if it just smells like kraut, you’re likely fine. Of course, some people like Joanna would argue that there’s no difference between spoiled and good sauerkraut in the first place. Can’t win ’em all…